The Rise of Skywalker’s Audacious Cynicism

It has been quite the ride in recent years following Star Wars. What started out as a standalone film a year after I was born evolved into a trilogy of films that captured the hearts and minds of a generation. After a long hiatus, the creator of those films returned for another trilogy – and whether you liked those six movies or not – there was no argument about which individual was making decisions about the events taking place, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….”

Star Wars was the brainchild of George Lucas and of course he was influenced by countless stories that came before him and benefited from the amazing talents of those around him as the films were created. If we had a problem with the events that played out on screen, then it was easy to point to Lucas as the individual responsible. And many people did hold him responsible after the conclusion of the prequels. So much so that he sold the franchise to Disney and moved on with his life.

The sequel trilogy announced by Disney produced excitement that perhaps the old magic of Star Wars could be recaptured. They brought on J.J. Abrams to direct a script that was written by at least three people including Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi) and Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3). It was announced that the original cast would reprise their roles, and fans were tentatively hopeful the new films would positively jolt the Star Wars universe.

The Force Awakens accomplished that by stylishly redoing the plot of A New Hope with an enjoyable cast of characters. We got an emotional end to the story of Han Solo and a major tease for whatever might have happened to Luke Skywalker. For whatever reason, Luke’s reveal in the new trilogy of films was held for the second installment; The Force Awakens hinges on the story of Rey, Finn and Kylo Ren. It produced memorable scenes, funny lines of dialogue, great visuals, and offered intriguing questions:

  • Who is Rey? Are her parents anyone special? Is she a Skywalker, Solo, Kenobi or Palpatine?
  • Is Kylo capable of redemption? Will he turn to the Light Side or go further to the Dark Side?
  • Who is Snoke? 
  • What’s the deal with The Knights of Ren?
  • Why was Luke hiding? What’s he going to do when he finally speaks to Rey?

As the start of a new trilogy and purposeful jumpstart to the flagging Star Wars franchise, The Force Awakens worked well. Critics and fans alike embraced the movie, and it set the stage for two more films that could go continue to mirror the original trilogy or do something a bit different.

Continue reading “The Rise of Skywalker’s Audacious Cynicism”

Anakin, Daenerys & Math

Let’s get the disclaimers out of the way – I love Star Wars (including The Last Jedi) and have enjoyed the Game of Thrones novels and television series so much that I analyzed the contents of the books to predict the series’ future. The following article addresses major plot points from the final season of Game of Thrones, so if you’re somehow not up-to-date on the final season’s details… congratulations on coming out of that coma and welcome back!

Anakin Daenerys

I’ve had this article in my mind since Dany’s ill-fated destruction of King’s Landing because I lived through many – and let me say again, many – discussions and debates about the adequacy of a prominent fantasy character’s heel turn. Fourteen years ago, the world finally learned what it was the pushed Anakin Skywalker to the Dark Side of the Force, and the response was, “Wait, that’s it?” Ken Tucker at New York Magazine phrased it this way:

Worse yet, after all these years, Anakin/Vader turns out to be a petulant wuss, a brat who chooses evil because he didn’t get the Jedi promotion he wanted. Instead of meaningful anti-heroism, we’ve got this bitter fellow gulled by the ego strokes and patently false promises of Ian McDiarmid’s Senator Palpatine.

TPM Teaser PosterFor many in my circle of friends back in 2005 (before social media got its clutches into all of us), Anakin’s turn immediately felt – for lack of a better word – lame. We grew up with Vader being the end-all, be-all of menacing villains only to see him ultimately redeem himself by saving his son, Luke, and destroying the Emperor (or so we thought). We were then introduced to the premise that we would see Anakin well before he turned into Darth Vader, and the possibilities of watching him become Darth Vader were intoxicating. The theories about how and why Anakin turned into Vader provided endless hours of speculation for my friends, which were fueled by one of the most-effective movie posters in recent decades.

The Phantom Menace did not give fans much of an answer about why Anakin ultimately chooses a path of evil in his future, though I never understood why the Jedi could not rescue his mother! Attack of the Clones gave Anakin some scenes to demonstrate that he feels misunderstood and held back; not to mention the anger that he unleashes after finding his mother murdered (again, why couldn’t the Jedi help her out?).

I remember talking with friends about “that look” that Anakin gives before murdering Tusken Raiders. That felt like Vader; the scene indicated that Anakin was capable of terrible things, and the relationship with Padme demonstrated his willingness to break rules and keep secrets. It set the stage for his transformation into Vader in the next film.

Continue reading “Anakin, Daenerys & Math”

Ego Check with The Id DM – Episode 43 – Enrique “NewbieDM” Bertran

Enrique Bertran 2019
Enrique Bertran

Enrique “NewbieDM” Bertran joins Ego Check once again to talk about his new Patreon campaign. I wanted to talk with Enrique to discuss the success of Critical Role and how other intellectual properties might capitalize on that formula. We ponder how Star Wars and Fantasy Flight Games could produce a stellar stream of actual play to highlight their product. I prod Enrique to detail how he would run such a campaign, and his ideas are wonderful; I hope he lets me join as a player.

Enjoy the 43rd episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:

Listen here!

Please consider leaving a review on iTunes and help spread the word about the show. 

New episodes are (typically) released the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month!

If you are interested in coming on the show for an interview, or would like to become a sponsor, contact me to make arrangements.

Ego Check with The Id DM – Episode 35 – Kyle Newman

Kyle Newman
Kyle Newman

I’m joined this week by Kyle Newman, one of the authors of Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History. You may also know Kyle as the Director of Fanboys (2009) and Barely Lethal (2015). Kyle talked with me about the genesis of Art & Arcana and how the four authors came together on the project. He discusses how the book was originally organized and plotted out by the creative team, and how they navigated the balance between dissecting and celebrating the nostalgia of Dungeons & Dragons. I asked Kyle how mining nostalgia has been different in the Star Wars and D&D fandoms over the years. We focus on the segment of D&D history that covered 3.5, 4th and 5th Editions, and emphasis that we both enjoyed what 4th Edition had to offer. He clarified that he wrote most of the chapter on 4th Edition, and we discuss the community’s relationship with that era of D&D and how it led to the current 5th Edition. I asked him about the past two years of his archaeological delve into D&D’s history to learn where he thinks D&D will go next.

Tune in for the full context of his comment, “There will be a 6th Edition.”

Enjoy the 35th episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:

Listen here!

Please consider leaving a review on iTunes and help spread the word about the show. 

New episodes are (typically) released the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month!

If you are interested in coming on the show for an interview, or would like to become a sponsor, contact me to make arrangements.

Ego Check with The Id DM – Episode 31 – Aaron Retka

Aaron Retka
Aaron Retka & Captain America

This week I’m joined by Aaron Retka, Managing Editor for Geeks Who Drink. For the uninitiated, Geeks Who Drink is “a homegrown Pub Trivia Quiz modeled after those in Ireland and the UK” that covers “everything from celebrities in trouble to wordplay to bad television.” The quizzes are held in bars and breweries across the country, and Aaron spoke with me about how much effort goes into crafting each and every question.

Aaron speaks about how he got started with Geeks Who Drink in 2006 as a freelancer, and how that evolved into his current role as Managing Editor. He discussed the elements that make a pub quiz good and relayed that the primary purpose of the quiz is to keep people entertained, “We want people to get the question right.” He shares some tales about his years of being a Quizmaster, including some stories about dealing with unruly patrons and dressing up as Dolores Umbridge for a Harry Potter Theme Quiz.

I inquired about the growing popularity of pub quizzes, and how it might intersect with the toxic side of fandoms. Aaron provides some frank commentary on gatekeeping in any given fandom, and how the motivation of Geeks Who Drink is to be inclusive to a wide variety of players and fans.

I should also note that Aaron is family; I married his cousin in 2004! He’s a wonderfully smart guy that is gainfully employed creating pub quizzes. I mean, how cool is that?

Enjoy the 31st episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:

Listen here!

Please consider leaving a review on iTunes and help spread the word about the show.

New episodes are (typically) released the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month!

If you are interested in coming on the show for an interview, or would like to become a sponsor, contact me to make arrangements.

My Head (Canon) Exploded! The Mental Discomfort of Star Wars: The Last Jedi

NOTE: There are spoilers for The Last Jedi in this article. Please stop reading if you have not seen the movie yet.

The Last Jedi posterWhen I started writing this article, the first paragraph detailed my excitement for Star Wars: The Last Jedi and how the only expectations I had were that it would be a good movie. At one point in the original article I wrote, “I was happily absent of expectations before the film.” It felt true when I wrote it; it really did. As I kept writing, I realized it was not true. It was actually far from true! I had many expectations for the film beyond it being good. I was just unaware of them all.

There is a moment in The Empire Strikes Back when Yoda warns Luke not to take his weapons into the cave. Luke asks, “What’s in there?” And Yoda responds, “Only what you take with you.”

The Last Jedi is a Rorschach test of a film.

Consciously and subconsciously, we all have expectations about what Star Wars should be. And when The Last Jedi challenges those expectations – or openly subverts them – it triggers an anxiety reaction. How we monitor and process that reaction likely goes a long way to determining if we thought The Last Jedi was a “good” movie or not.

I’m not here to tell you how to react to The Last Jedi. What I am suggesting is to review the expectations you had about the film and franchise because I was unaware of many of my own expectations. Overall, I thought the film was brilliant, and I would like to harness the nervous energy I experienced during those two-and-a-half hours while watching the movie on opening night.

Because that feeling of plunging into the unknown was pure electricity.

My response to the Rorschach test of The Last Jedi is below.

Continue reading “My Head (Canon) Exploded! The Mental Discomfort of Star Wars: The Last Jedi”

A New Hope In the Post-Rogue One Galaxy

Rogue One is wonderful addition to the Star Wars film library, which is now eight films spanning five decades. My enjoyment of all things Star Wars is well-documented, and I was happy to see Rogue One twice over the past week. If you can find a theater with the 70mm IMAX print, then go out of your way to see that; it’s an amazing experience! While I loved the new addition to Star Wars lore, there are several things about the ending of Rogue One that continue to itch my brain days later. And I feel the need to externalize those thoughts!

The rest of the article contains details about the plot and conclusion of Rogue One. If you have already seen the movie and wish to indulge in my nerd-brain madness, then please continue!

Rogue One Rocked

Before dissecting continuity concerns, I want to clearly state the things I enjoyed about Rogue One. The characters – and the actors portraying those characters – were excellent. There is not a weak link among the ensemble cast, and I appreciated the performances more on the second viewing. Riz Ahmed especially does great work infusing Bodhi with tortured nuance, and Diego Luna presents Cassian as a conflicted soldier who has been involved in too many traumatic situations. It seems clear the character of Jyn went through some revisions between the trailers and release of the film, and Felicity Jones puts herself up their with Carrie Fischer and Daisey Ridley as strong women in the Star Wars universe. K-2SO is voiced by the “fonging” wonderful Alan Tudyk, and channeled one of the greatest droids in Star Wars history, HK-47. The crew members of Rogue One all serve a purpose, and it reminded me of the unique personalities in the strike team in Predator.

rogue-one-cast-photo-d23
They’ve gone rogue!

The visual and sound effects were stunning, and this includes the computer-generated performance of Grand Moff Tarkin. When Tarkin first appeared in the movie, I assumed it was a brief cameo. I was incorrect because Tarkin is a major character in the film. The scenes with him certainly passed the uncanny valley for me though his complexion seemed too dark and sickly. The computer-generated Leia at the conclusion of the film felt more unnatural to me, though it was still a cool moment. I am guessing the brightness of the room and the whiteness of her clothing made that a tremendously difficult shot to execute well. The sound in the IMAX version of the film was a delight, and the soundtrack felt like Star Wars.

Continue reading “A New Hope In the Post-Rogue One Galaxy”

Life, Death, Love, and Star Wars

Star Wars is woven throughout the fabric of my existence. I am far from alone in this regard because Star Wars matters to a lot of people around the world. With the new movie debuting later this year, and Force Friday happening today, it feels like a good time to explain why I find Star Wars so important. I spent some time earlier this year at Star Wars Celebration with tens of thousands of people who could share a similar story about how Star Wars has affected their lives. Every one of those stories is original and valid.

This one is mine.

Before delving into the details of what it was like to be at Star Wars Celebration back in April, I want to explain the various stages of my Star Wars fandom and experiences throughout my life. I was born in New Jersey in 1976, so I was too young to be aware of the first movie’s imprint on society in 1977. As I grew up, I became a fan because Star Wars toys were everywhere – and I wanted them all! My mother referred to me back then as Greedy Smurf, which is a title I thankfully outgrew (right, mom?!). I recall watching Star Wars in my living room whenever I could find it on the cable channel, PRISM. This was before the days of digital downloads, DVRs, Blu-rays, DVDs, Laserdiscs or even VHS tapes – so finding a movie you wanted to watch took planning and the local TV Guide. For example, discovering that Star Wars was going to play on PRISM next Friday night became appointment viewing. My aunt or grandmother would sometimes call our house to alert me that Star Wars was going to be on television. My fandom started in this way, sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of an old box TV watching Luke leave his home to partake in a grand adventure.

Luke Reaching for Lightsaber
Use the Force, Luke. Let go, Luke. Luke, trust me.

My memory tells me that the first time I saw Empire Strikes Back was on a VHS tape at my aunt Eileen’s house while the rest of the family were off doing something else; I could be mistaken. The scene that hit me like a bolt of lightning was Luke in the snow cave on Hoth. Helpless and dangling from the roof of the cave, Luke senses danger, closes his eyes, and wills his lightsaber to leap from the snow and into hand just in time to fend off a raging monster.

That was it.

That was the moment!

I had heard “Old Ben” teach Luke about The Force many times in the first movie and watched Luke trust his feelings to blow up The Death Star, but it was not until that moment when Star Wars connected with me on an existential level.

Continue reading “Life, Death, Love, and Star Wars”

Introducing Star Wars: Edge of the Empire

Beautiful book.
Beautiful book.

Now that my gaming table is complete, I have started up a new campaign and our group has selected Star Wars – Edge of the Empire as our system. Expect numerous posts in the future about the gameplay, mechanics, and other issues that arise while playing the system. The first item I wish to discuss regarding Edge of the Empire is a great idea that was introduced to our group by our DM (and licensed Lucasfilm artist), Grant Gould.

During our first session, our “pitiful little band” met to create characters with the guidelines provided by the Core Rulebook. This process lasted a couple of hours as we traded ideas on how to balance our three-player party. I stuck with an early character concept – a cross between an interrogation and medical droid who had parts of his memory wiped and was stolen from Black Sun. Now the droid, EIT27, has been reprogammed to help instead of harm, and somewhere deep in the circuits of his chrome brain are essential details on Black Sun operations. The rules allowed me the flexibility to take skills in multiple Careers to build a Droid who could function both as a healer and techno-savvy brain for the party.

With character creation completed, our DM turned his laptop around and told us to gather around the screen. Click below to find out what he showed us!

Continue reading “Introducing Star Wars: Edge of the Empire”